20 Questions: Author Emma Heatherington on writing on the sofa and having a bellyful of doom and gloom

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Bestselling novelist Emma Heatherington from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone

Co Tyrone author Emma Heatherington. Picture by Divine Photography
Gail Bell

Secrets In The Snow is Emma Heatherington's latest novel


Up and at it – what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

I'm most definitely not a morning person and I love a lie-in, especially on cold, autumnal mornings, but I have to say, I'm so glad that school is back on now and we have a proper structure to our day. I'm up at 7.45am and once I get my five year-old to school for 9am, it's coffee time and admin time for me after a bit of housework. My working hours while Sonny is at school are precious, so I try not to plan too much else to distract me from that until early afternoon when I pick him up.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

Coffee and toast, although I'm weaning myself on to cereal with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.


At this time of year, I always like to have a pot of home-made soup ready.

Evening meal?

With three hungry boys at home during the week, I try to have dinner ready around 4.30pm which is normally a hearty meal with lots of veg. Specialities are fish pie and chicken curry.


Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

I always write from home and my office is my laptop on the sofa. I've developed a few bad habits down the years, but I simply can't get into the zone by sitting at a desk. Since my youngest started primary school, I've become stricter with my daily routine.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

I'm the eldest of six, so cooking for the masses comes easily to me. I can whip up a good dinner in a short space of time for my own large family now. During lockdown, it was essential to have lots of snacks for my teenagers who were constantly hungry and we went through a toasted sandwich phase which was very handy.


Weekend treat?

Chinese takeaway or Indian food would be my choice, with Chicken Tikka Balti my new favourite. The kids love a pizza and now that most of them have part-time jobs, they keep our favourite place, The Dome Pizzeria in Dungannon, busy with deliveries.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

In July I joined a gym for the first time in my life. In the beginning, some of our classes were outdoors, which is even more out of character for me – I was the one who always 'forgot' her PE stuff at school . I'm now taking part in classes three times a week with the amazing Just Start Fitness in Dungannon and I'm confident that the mental benefits are up there, along with the physical ones.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

I go through bursts of walking for days and days in a row and then I leave it for a while. I should really try harder.


How do you relax?

I love a good, long soak in the bath when the chance arises.


Teetotal or tipple?

A glass of red wine or a nice cold gin and tonic with lots of ice is my tipple of choice.


What book are you currently reading?

My trainer, Jordan, at Just Start Fitness has recommended The 5am Club to me so I'm reading that with a long-shot ambition of finally becoming a morning person.


Best Netflix?

Emily in Paris, simply because I adore everything to do with Paris and the French language so it's a great way to escape in these dark times.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

I'm very, very proud and surprised that I've joined a gym and for the past eight weeks I've stuck to attending three classes a week. As someone who never darkened the doors of a fitness class before, and never took part in anything remotely sporty, I've shocked both myself and my family.


On a scale of one to 10, where have your been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

I'm used to being at home as most of my work is done within my own four walls, but I really do miss the seasonal treats I get from my publishers in London when I'm invited to a fancy party each summer and winter, with a spring event in Dublin.


What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

Seeing my dad and siblings every day, going to the theatre and live music. Locally, my partner, Jim, and my sister, Rachel, run a monthly folk club at Rachel's Café (Café No.47) in Donaghmore which is such a treat. I've really missed that.


Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

A live concert, a play or musical at a local theatre. Eventually, somewhere hot and sunny would be nice.


Biggest gripe?

People who moan for nothing and who thrive on doom and gloom.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

I think these frightening times have made most of us realise how to appreciate the simple things in life and how precious family is.


Any new skills or hobbies?

During lockdown, I wrote the first draft of a children's book called Walter and Jupiter, so I hope to develop that further. I've also written the outline to a TV drama series – watch this space…


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

I think we all need a break from negativity and fear. Brexit was a big public divider and then along came Covid, which everyone has an opinion on. Some peace and normality would be most welcome. I hope we'll all appreciate artists, musicians, and the joy of celebrations with family and friends more than ever.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

Not really. Having lost my mother very suddenly when she was very young, I'm well aware of the fragility of life, so I learned long ago how to appreciate every single opportunity that comes my way.

Emma's new novel, Secrets In The Snow (HarperFiction), has just been published and is on sale in Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda as well all good bookshops. An e-book version is also available.

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